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I am in the process of building a server setup with a DB server and some web servers for the web tier. We have a DB server. One option is to get a good web server, Xeon processor, 24GB of memory, RAID1. It costs around $2500. We'd need probably another one for backup, but can be cheaper. Another option is to buy 4 cheaper desktops that have very fast procesors, 4-8 G of RAM, no RAID, but find some little device that can route traffic to them, so if one fails the other 3 are still up and running.

Suppose rack space is NOT an issue, any thoughts about which setup is better? May be easier to maintain just the 1 web server, and also I don't know if such "little device" for routing traffic exists (I know I can build this myself using Click or something like that, but that's more complexity).

Thanks.

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6 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Okay, there's a reason that server grade equipment exists, and hasn't yet been universally replaced by cheap commodity desktops.

And, no, it isn't just FUD or short-sightedness on the parts of IT professionals the world over.

Can you use the desktops? Sure, but you will never get better than desktop performance out of them. And this isn't just referring to CPU speeds & amounts of RAM. Good server hardware is built like the proverbial "brick you know what", and is designed to keep working under conditions that the average desktop machine won't sustain.

That being said, there are times when a desktop is okay, and the best case for that is when you absolutely cannot obtain server hardware. But if you're spending money already, you'll get better long-term performance from hardware designed for the task.

FWIW, if you need to economize, you should still get server grade hardware. Entry-level servers can be purchased at very reasonable prices, and would still be a step up from low cost desktop machines.

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+1 I would not use "desktops", but I would definitely use OEM server components. I think most rack mounts are EXTREMELY overpriced and can be out-performed by a box of parts from your vendor of choice. –  neoice Nov 5 '09 at 3:15
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+1 for hot-swap power supplies and 15K SAS drives that just won't die. +2 for being able to stack 48 1U's in one rack. -1 for the cost. –  David Nov 5 '09 at 3:40
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First things first: Stop calling it a CPU server. There's no such thing as a CPU server. All servers have CPU's regardless of the role they fill. You're building a web server, I get it.

My question is this: Are you bulding these web servers for a real money making company? If so, then you ought to spend real money to buy real equipment manufactured to do the job you intend it to do. We could debate the merits of running server roles on desktops until we're blue in the face but the bottom line is the fact that you're bulding a web server so put it on a real server. $2,500 for a server is a bargain as far as I'm concerned.

I'm always taken aback when companies want to play "grown up" in the real world, offer their products and services in the market place and hope to be successful, but then they want to use toys to do the job as cheaply as possible. I understand budget constraints, especially in the current economy, but to compete in the real world you need to spend real money and purchase the appropriate equipment for the job at hand. I'm not saying you have to spend more than is reasonable, as prices vary from vendor to vendor, but buy a real server to do a server's job. Free and cheap will only get you so far and if it doesn't cost much it's not worth much. You can't build a Cadillac on a Cobalt budget.

No offense intended here, I'm just stating my opinion on the matter.

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"Free and cheap will only get you so far and if it doesn't cost much it's not worth much." would you apply this to open-source? :P –  neoice Nov 5 '09 at 23:38
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You can't compare hardware and software. As far as I'm aware there's nobody building and giving away free servers. If you know different please share. –  John Gardeniers Nov 6 '09 at 2:51
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Sorry, but while interesting, this line of discussion is not related to my initial question. Yes, cost is sometimes a concern. But more importantly, it's just interesting to ask the question if you can get the same performance for less. That's all. Note how I said one server at $2500 versus 4 cheaper machines with good specs, that probably just be the same cost. But with 4 you get more redundancy in the area where things are likely to break (sure, router is a S.P.F., but good routers don't break as often). –  OverClocked Nov 7 '09 at 1:22
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there's a variety of load balancing options. (round-robin DNS, mod_proxy_balance, commercial load balancers.) I'm sure one of them suits your needs, however load balancing adds another layer of complexity to your set up. you need to make sure you can manage that too and realize that you may be shifting your single point-of-failure to a load balancer instead of an individual web server.

you can manage multiple servers using something like Puppet or cfengine, if administrative cost is an issue. again, another layer of complexity, but one that will be well-worth in the long-run should you ever plan to scale up ANY of your resources.

personally, I'd go with multiple, cheap servers. I like having redundancy and I dont think the simplicity of having 1 server outweighs that.

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He's not talking about a cheap server though, he's talking about a cheap desktop. There can be big differences there. Not always, but often. –  Mark Henderson Nov 5 '09 at 4:07
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Buy just the one server instead of four desktops. The management overhead (time, resources, etc.) are well worth the extra up front cost of buying a good server instead of four different cheap machines. It may look cheaper up front, but once you add in management costs over the long run the server may end up being a way better deal.

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@neoice: Yes, I would apply that to open-source. Capitalism, with all it's warts, wasn't built on open-source and the idea of everyone giving and getting everything for free. Where did this idea that intellectual property should be made available at no cost to anyone who wants it come from? Can I get an open-source automobile or loaf of bread? Why do people think that the rules of capitalism shouldn't apply to intellectual property?

If you want to give your hard work away, more power to you but don't expect me to do the same and don't hit me over the head if I don't. I don't have any social or moral obligation to give my work away for free. If I give to charity on a personal basis that's my business but I shouldn't be expected to give my labor, intellect, ideas, or methods away to any business entity that wants them. Being in business costs money, that's just the way it is.

OLPC is an "open-source" program I can get behind, but even that's not free.

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You don't get open source or capitalism. Major financial institutions like Goldman Sachs (not exactly hippie bastions) get tired of being mugged every year for support on IBM MQSeries. So they pooled their resources and produced an open source messaging queueing app. Everyone benefits except for the vendor. –  duffbeer703 Nov 6 '09 at 1:44
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That's right. Down vote me because I disagree. Wonderful. –  joeqwerty Nov 6 '09 at 3:27
    
So Goldman Sachs doesn't pay IBM for MQSeries anymore, which means that IBM's revenues are down, which menas that someone in the MQSeries division gets bumped to a lower paying job, which means they can't afford private school for their kid, which means a teacher gets layed off, which means they have to take a job at Walmart, which means they can't afford to contribute to their Goldman Sachs managed mutual fund anynore, which means Goldman Sachs revenues are down... –  joeqwerty Nov 6 '09 at 3:39
    
Hehe, yeah I'm sure Goldman Sachs considers their open source software "free". Having 400k/yr developers on staff sure is cheap. Paying out to build off of open source is quite a bit different than being tired of paying for support. –  sparks Nov 6 '09 at 3:53
    
You need to educate yourself on this topic. I suppose we should banish integrated motherboards, because the people who made a living selling sound cards are living on the streets? There's nothing sacred about software, and developers aren't forced to open source anything. Do you organize protests in front of public libraries, because they steal royalties from book publishers and authors? –  duffbeer703 Nov 6 '09 at 13:04
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@duffbeer703: Maybe I don't get either one, but it sounds to me like someone wanting to get something for nothing. When I need a product or service I expect to pay for it and I expect my customers to pay me for my products and services. If you don't like the price, negotiate a better one or go somewhere else but don't ask me to give it to you for nothing.

I'm tired of getting raked over the coals on my Citibank mortgage, so I should expect that Citibank, in the spirit of open-source, will eliminate my interest payment right?

I'm hungry and food is expensive so the local grocery store, in the spirit of open-source, should let me fill up my cart at no charge?

I have a couple of mutual funds with Goldman Sachs and frankly, I'm tired of them front loading fees on my investments. In the spirit of open-source, they should probably not charge me for their services.

You guys are right, open-source is the way to go!

No offense intended.

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You're making the wrong comparison. Open source isn't comparable to free food -- it's more buying food from a local co-op so that you know where it comes from, how it was grown and are supporting local businesses. –  duffbeer703 Nov 6 '09 at 12:58
    
Sorry, but while interesting, this line of discussion is not related to my initial question. Yes, cost is sometimes a concern. But more importantly, it's just interesting to ask the question if you can get the same performance for less. That's all. Note how I said one server at $2500 versus 4 cheaper machines with good specs, that probably just be the same cost. But with 4 you get more redundancy in the area where things are likely to break (sure, router is a S.P.F., but good routers don't break as often). –  OverClocked Nov 7 '09 at 1:22
    
Wow! A drive by downvote on a post that's almost 3 months old. Thanks to whomever is trolling this site looking to handout arbitrary, irrelevant down votes long after the discussion has been put to rest. Keep up the good work! –  joeqwerty Jan 29 '10 at 0:21
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